Ronnie MacKinnon

Born: August 20, 1940;

Died: September 17, 2023

Ronnie MacKinnon, who has died aged 83, was a footballer who gave distinguished and sterling service to both Rangers and Scotland.

Ronald and his twin brother Donald (Donnie) were born in wartime Govan in 1940 to parents Murdo and Annie MacKinnon. The two boys may have been born in Glasgow but both parents hailed from the islands; Murdo from the Isle of Skye and Annie from Carloway on the Isle of Lewis.

The link to the Hebrides would prove to be invaluable during wartime, taking the boys out of danger during the Blitz and would in peacetime become a regular holiday destination. Indeed in 1959, whilst on holiday at the family croft, both brothers played for Carloway FC in the Lewis and Harris League. Donnie would also become a professional footballer, playing for Partick Thistle from 1959-73.

Educated at Govan High School, both boys were keen at sport in general and football in particular, Ronnie playing junior football with both Benburb and Dunipace. It was whilst playing for the latter at Renfrew Juniors that he attracted the attention of a Rangers Scout.

That very evening, Ibrox manager Scot Symon telephoned the family home, inviting Ronnie to signing talks the very next day. The youngster had been playing as a forward at junior level, but his future would see him move back to wing-half and finally to his true position at centre-half where he would fulfil his potential at both club and international level.

Ronnie would later credit the training regime at the club with improving his strength and stamina, building up his legs and muscles as he worked his way through the ranks.

His league debut on 8 March 1961 at Ibrox resulted in a 3-0 victory over Hearts before 35,000 spectators. That appearance had been at wing-half, but in the later stages of the following campaign, MacKinnon had been converted to centre-half, primarily because of injuries to Bill Paterson and Doug Baillie, and would quickly make the position his own, overcoming a difficult Old Firm debut when, suffering from influenza, he endured a torrid 90 minutes against Celtic’s John Hughes, although a late Davie Wilson goal secured a 1-1 draw for the visitors.

Ronnie would finish the season with a Scottish FA Cup Winners Medal following a 2-0 defeat of St Mirren at Hampden before a massive 127,940 spectators. He would also further establish himself in an unbeaten close-season three-match tour of the Soviet Union that summer.

By the middle of Season 1962-63, he would be a member of one of the most iconic half-back lines in the club’s history, with John Greig and Jim Baxter on either side in the great Rangers team of the early-sixties.

By no means could MacKinnon be described as a stopper centre-half; he was a composed, skilful central defender with pace, timely in the tackle, and excellent in distribution. He was a worthy successor to the legendary centre-halfs of the Rangers side of the immediate post-war era, George Young and Willie Woodburn. Indeed, his central defensive partnership with Greig would be unmatched until that of Richard Gough and Terry Butcher in the late-1980s.

A member of the club’s Hall of Fame, encompassing all games, Ronnie MacKinnon would make a total of 530 appearances for Rangers, scoring five goals, and winning two League Championship, four Scottish Cup, three Scottish League Cup and two Glasgow Cup Winners’ Medals. In the Triple Crown season of 1963-64 he played in 47 out of a possible 50 games for Scot Symon’s team and would captain the side in the League Cup Final defeat of Celtic of October 1970 in the absence of John Greig through illness.

His goals tally may be low, but his first counter for the Light Blues was an important one: a last-minute header against Red Star Belgrade in September 1964 securing a play-off at Highbury against the Yugoslavian Champions in the days before away-goals rules and penalty shoot-outs. Rangers would win the play-off 3-1, then eliminate Rapid Vienna before exiting narrowly in the last eight to World Champions Inter Milan.

European competition would play an important role in MacKinnon's career. The subject of criticism (warranted or otherwise) for being weak in the air following a tie at White Hart Lane against the great Tottenham Hotspur side of the early-60s, by dint of his resolve and hard work he ensured that the critics were silenced thereafter.

Ronnie would be a key member of the Ibrox team that would reach their second European Final in 1966-67, only to lose in extra-time to Bayern Munich in Nurnberg. But he was cruelly denied the opportunity to play in the European Cup Winners Cup Final in Barcelona five years later, having suffered a broken leg in an earlier round against Sporting Lisbon.

At international level, it was Jock Stein who first selected MacKinnon for a full Scotland international cap in a crucial World Cup qualifier against Italy at Hampden, won 1-0 courtesy of a last-minute winner from John Greig, going on to make 28 appearances in total, and even netting one goal, the winner against Wales in 1967.

He also played against Brazil prior to the 1966 World Cup Finals and was a member of the Scottish side who memorably defeated England 3-2 at Wembley in 1967. He would also play nine times for the Scottish League and was capped once at Under-23 level.

He left Ibrox in the summer of 1973 and moved to South Africa where he would play for two years with Durban United. He remained in South Africa for the next 30 years, selling cars, but occasionally returning to Scotland and the Isle of Lewis, even featuring one more time for Carloway in 1979, playing in a local cup semi-final at the age of 38.

He returned to live permanently on Lewis in later years, and was both an honorary member and ambassador for the local Rangers supporters club, based in Stornoway, and numbering 650 members, leading them regularly to Ibrox.

Not long before his death, a sold-out benefit night held in tribute to Ronnie MacKinnon was attended by club legends Alex MacDonald, Ian Durrant and Peter McCloy accompanied by club officials chairman John Bennett, chief executive James Bisgrove and Colin Stewart.

He is survived by his wife Elizabeth.

Robert McElroy